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Hollywood Mayoral Seat Up For Grabs

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HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami) -- Whoever becomes the next mayor in the city of Hollywood will face significant financial issues.

Hollywood City Hall
Hollywood City Hall (Source: CBS4)

That's because of lingering trouble with the city's pension obligations.

The city of Hollywood boasts beautiful beaches, a thriving downtown and a good quality of life for its residents. But beneath the amenities is an ongoing problem -- a $500 million unfunded pension liability for city workers, firefighters and police officers. It's a problem that will become the responsibility of the city's next mayor with current mayor, Peter Bober, stepping down.

Candidates Josh Levy and Eleanor Sobel have distinct ideas about the problem.

"We want to make sure that we have a sustainable city with regards to our finances and so we need good fiscal discipline," Levy said. "I look forward to providing that as mayor."

Sobel takes issue with how bad the problem truly is.

"All we hear is, 'the unions broke the city, we're the poster child,'" Sobel said. "That is not true."

In 2016, the city faced a $24 million dollar budget shortfall. To balance the budget, city departments tightened their belts and cut their budgets. Levy, who's served on the city's planning and zoning board for a dozen years, says he doesn't want to raise property taxes.

Instead, his solution focuses on business investment.

"Hollywood has a great opportunity to re-imagine a lot of commercial corridors, bring in business and establish a greater tax base," Levy said.

Sobel, a state senator and former Hollywood city commissioner, wants to see more business development, as well. She questions the way city leaders have handled its finances and says an audit, that she requested several years ago after the city declared financial urgency, has led to changes.

"The bond rating has gone up because of this financial audit that I ordered," Sobel said. "There's a lot more questions that need to be asked of the city."

There has been criticism that Sobel is too cozy to unions who benefit from the generous pensions that city leaders doled out years ago. However, she says she's the perfect candidate to confront the problem.

"I believe that I'm the only one who could work with the unions without giving away anything that would hurt the taxpayer," Sobel said.

Another issue in this race focuses on commercials for Levy's family business, Hollywood Kia. Levy is the General Counsel for the dealership. Levy appears in televised ads with his young daughter and also has a picture with his daughter in front of Kia sign on his campaign flyer.

"When he starts off with the ad, 'I'm Josh Levy' and then the ad is in his campaign material, Hollywood Kia, it becomes a little shady," Sobel said.

Levy disagrees. He says he's been appearing in commercials for the dealership since 2011 and that the picture in his campaign flyer comes with a disclaimer that it's a political ad.

"It's important that people identify and know who I am," she said. "And a lot of times, if they can identify that it's Josh from Hollywood Kia, then I think it creates an association."

Aside from tackling the pension issue, Levy wants to work to beautify the city and protect its green spaces. Sobel wants to see better housing that can improve the property tax base and she wants to focus on protecting the city's drinking water and combating sea level rise.

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